The rainforests of Indonesia are a battleground between the area’s critically endangered wildlife and the ever-expanding forces of palm oil and agriculture. The latest victim of this war is a Sumatran orangutan named "Hope” who was recently found blinded, with broken bones, and riddled with air gun pellets.
Hope was discovered alongside her month-old baby near a palm oil plantation in the Subulussalam district of Aceh province on the island of Sumatra. On March 10, a team of veterinarians from the Orangutan Information Centre and BKSDA Aceh rushed them back to a clinic where they discovered Hope was suffering from fractured bones and a sharp tool wound on her right arm. X-rays also revealed her body contained at least 74 air rifle bullets. Multiple pellets were found in her eyes, leaving the orangutan totally blinded and defenseless.
Unfortunately, her rescuers said the young baby died on the way to the clinic as a result of malnutrition because the blinded and injured mother was unable to feed it.
Hope has since undergone surgery to help her severely broken arm and to remove the air gun pellets. While she is still in a very poor state, the team are confident she will be able to make a recovery.
“According to our vet, 'Hope' will need a long time care and recovery treatment. Especially for her mental rehabilitation since we know this adult female orangutan just lost her little baby when still breastfeeding,” Sumatran Orangutan Conservation Programme (SOCP) said in a statement.
“She is starting to eat some fruits and drink milk,” they added. “But she's still in the intensive care cages.”
Indonesia is the world’s biggest producer of palm oil, a cheap and versatile vegetable oil that can be used as biofuel, animal feed, and is added to many foods and household products. In fact, around 50 percent of the packaged products we find in supermarkets, from shampoo to chocolate, contain palm oil.
The intense demand for this product has been cited as a major driver of the deforestation of some of the world’s most biodiverse forests. Tropical regions, such as Indonesia and Malaysia, are ideal for growing this crop. It also just so happens that these areas are rich hives of biodiversity, home to many critically endangered and endemic animals, including orangutans, pygmy elephants, and Sumatran rhinos.
The IUCN Red List estimates there are less than 13,500 Sumatran orangutans left in the wild, however, this population is slowly but surely being decimated by an ever-shrinking habitat. As Hope shows, the species is also suffering from increased human-wildlife conflict.